We are living in a secularized culture that leaves little room for a relationship with Jesus. Membership in the Church is considered by many to be unimportant. Baptized Catholics are abandoning their faith at an alarming rate. Many parents are perplexed and saddened that their children, after years of a Catholic school education and parish religious formation programs, are not practicing their faith.
This description presents a dismal view. It is, however, incomplete. Thanks be to God there are many faithful who nurture the seed of faith they received at their Baptism. Here in our diocese many of the faithful are actively engaged in living, knowing and sharing their faith. They know that formation in the faith is a lifelong journey. They know that faith is a gift received — a treasure to be shared.
As we approach the conclusion of the Year of the Family, I want to affirm the important and indispensable role that parents have in handing on the faith to their children. Parents are the first and primary educators of their children. As I noted in my pastoral letter, “The family is where we are taught the basics. When it comes to our Catholic faith, the home is the ‘first school of Christian life’ and parents are the ‘first heralds of the faith.’ . . . the mission of the family is to evangelize. In fact, evangelization begins within the context of the family. Having first been evangelized themselves, members of the family are then able to evangelize others” (The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond).
No catechist, no program, no activity can take the place of parents in handing on the faith to their children. In our Catholic schools and parish programs our children and young people learn about their faith. They are taught the commandments, prayers, practices and Beatitudes. They hear about Jesus and God’s love for them. Being taught, however, does not guarantee a deepening of faith. “All that parish faith formation programs and Catholic schools can do is to provide the necessary tools to assist parents in their role” (Pastoral Letter on the Family).
Although faith is a gift at baptism, it needs to be nurtured. Nothing can replace the teaching and good example that happens in a family. Parents who share their faith through their words and deeds are tending to the faith of their children and helping them to know Christ and live their faith. Their good example shows their children that faith is more than knowing about your faith. It is a personal relationship with Jesus. It is experiencing His love and mercy and realizing that He accompanies us on the journey of life and faith.
Recognizing parents’ indispensable role in the faith formation of their children, I invite them to consider the following:
Does your family pray together? Is the regular participation in the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays and feast days a top priority? Does your family pray grace before meals? How about prayers before the children go to bed or upon waking in the morning? Even a few simple words of prayer each day are teachable moments that nurture faith.
Do you participate in parish faith formation opportunities offered by the Faith Formation Office, and the Office of Youth Ministry and Young Adult Ministry? “. . . when it comes to faith, most people are content with remaining at an elementary level. This would never be acceptable at school or in the workplace. Neither is it acceptable in the Church. Faith Formation is ongoing” (Pastoral Letter on the Family). You cannot pass on what you do not have. Parents have a responsibility to grow in their understanding of the faith so they can hand on the faith to their children.
Do you set aside specific times to spend time together as a family? The family is a community and the Church is a community of believers. Community does not just happen. It requires a commitment to spend time together. The busyness of life is often an obstacle to authentic community. Is your family life marked by special moments of prayer and fellowship — a birthday, an anniversary, a child going off to college, a visit from relatives and other celebrations?
Does your family reach out to others in charity and service? The key element here is participating together as a family in activities that benefit others, for example serving meals for the homeless, collecting items for the poor, and visiting parishioners who are sick or homebound.
Jesus learned about His Jewish faith from his mother and St. Joseph. So too today. Children learn the ways of faith primarily from the words and deeds of their parents. Without their example, it is unlikely that children will develop a personal relationship with Christ. Let us invoke the guidance and protection of the Holy Family for parents. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, guide and protect parents. Help them to be credible witnesses to the beauty and truth of our Catholic faith.
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.